By Angeljean Chiaramida STAFF WRITER
Newburyport Daily News
---- — As the race for New Hampshire governor enters the final weekend, most observers say the battle between the two major candidates — Democrat Maggie Hassan and Republican Ovide Lamontagne — is too close to call.
Both are vying to follow John Lynch into the corner office after the popular Democrat won his historic fourth consecutive, two-year term as governor in 2010.
According to observers, one reason the race is so close is because neither Hassan nor Lamontagne has statewide name recognition, forcing each to wage hands-on campaigns, stumping personally throughout the Granite State to bring their messages to voters.
Adding to the gubernatorial political maelstrom is the fact that Libertarian candidate Michael Baldassarre could siphon off votes, making the outcome at the polls Tuesday even more difficult to predict.
In the hard-fought, and some say, nasty campaign, much has been made about where the candidates live.
Lamontagne, a New Hampshire native is well-known in Manchester, living in the house where he grew up.
Hassan, a three-term state senator who represented Seabrook’s District 23 for six years, is well-known on the Seacoast. She resides in Exeter, where her family is required to live in a home on the campus of Phillips Exeter Academy, where her husband serves as principal.
Both candidates are critical of the negative attack ads tied to the race and paid for by political interests with addresses outside the state. They said they dislike that the ads divert voter attention away from the real issues at stake and refer people who want to know their platforms and stands on issues to their websites and campaign position papers.
Both candidates are adamant about their pledge to oppose both a sales and income tax should either be brought to their desks.
They also agree on their support for expanding gambling in the Granite State. The motivating factor appears to be the massive gambling initiative in Massachusetts that could put a huge casino in Metropolitan Boston, less than 35 miles from the New Hampshire state line, drawing millions of dollars out of state. The candidates both believe that if New Hampshire residents want to gamble, they should be able to do it locally.
But the candidates differ on the process for determining the location for a new casino and how gaming revenues should be spent.
Hassan believes there should be one, high-end casino near the Massachusetts border to keep gambling and rooms and meals tax revenue in state. She favors identifying that location through a competitive bidding process, which would keep Seabrook Race Track along with nearby Rockingham Park in Salem, among others, in the mix and allow officials to select the proposal that offered the best deal for the state.
Hassan said she would use gaming revenue to augment educational funding for public schools and the state’s community college and university systems.
Lamontagne also believes there should be one new casino site. But if approved by the Legislature, he’d place it at Rockingham Park. He said the Salem racetrack’s history as a gambling venue and its easy access to Interstate 93 make it the right spot. Lamontagne believes the reason casino gaming never garnered sufficient support in the past is because of the debate over how many sites to allow and where they should go.
Although he is a partner in the Divine, Millimet and Branch law firm, which has been the lobbyist pushing for a casino at Rockingham Park for decades, Lamontagne said he isn’t worried he’ll be seen as having a conflict of interest for picking Rockingham for a casino. If elected governor, he said he’ll divest himself of his financial interest in the firm, essentially severing his ties there.
Lamontagne said he would use gaming revenue for economic development, such as improving the business climate by reducing taxes on enterprises and expanding Interstate 93.
Education: Brown University and Northeastern School of Law
Occupation: Former labor attorney most recently with Sullivan, Weinstein and McQuay; not currently practicing
Family: Husband Tom Hassan; two children
No. 1 priority: “Getting the economy moving again and producing jobs.” Hassan has a multifaceted plan, which includes research and development tax credits to encourage job growth, providing technical assistance to businesses in need and creating a strong and skilled workforce by aligning education with the 21st century economy to provide workers who meet the needs of existing business and industry and as well as drawing others to the state.
Funding for education: Although she would continually review the state’s current education funding plan, she does not foresee proposing a change in how state funding is distributed to local schools. However, she hopes to freeze tuition within the state university system in exchange for restoring the millions of dollars in cuts in the current budget. Hassan said she would “reverse some of the bad decisions” made by the Legislature last session, such as rehiring laid off Department of Revenue auditors, which could bring $20 million to $25 million in lost tax revenue from those who cheat the system.
Primary role of governor: Hassan said the governor should be a “problem solver” who works with the Legislature. “It means you have to be able to bring people together and listen to all the stakeholders, finding common ground to find solutions to some of the significant challenges we face.”
Education: Catholic University, University of Wyoming College of Law
Occupation: Attorney specializing in business issues with Devine, Millimet and Branch
Family: Wife Bettie Lamontagne, two children
No. 1 priority: Creating jobs by not allowing the state budget to increase and by reforming the state’s Business Profits tax to lower the rate and create tax incentives. He would have a five-year moratorium, offering a tax holiday to encourage job creation, lowering payroll taxes for those who increased employment positions.
Funding for education: Lamontagne would reduce the amount of money the state needs to raise for local education by encouraging a constitutional amendment reversing the Supreme Court’s Claremont decisions that ruled the state must provide funding to ensure an adequate education for every child. He would also restructure the educational delivery system by eliminating school administrative units, which he believes are highly bureaucratic and expensive. He would transfer the responsibility of superintendents to each school principal in a “site-based management” system, which he said woud save money.
Primary role of governor: “The role of the governor is like that of a small town mayor. It’s about management and acting as (the state’s) ambassador and promoting New Hampshire.”